Archive for Garden Experience

Planting Onions

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Today I reached forward into spring and planted my onions, 250 of them.  With the “Bomb Cyclone” in full force, a thought of spring to come was welcome.  This year I’m trying Yellow Spanish Onion “Sedona Organic F1” which is resistant to pink root, a virus still in the soil after 125+ years.  They’ll be ready for harvest in July.  These will be a nice size for transplanting into the garden in April.  The days are getting longer!

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Making Wreaths

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One activity I enjoy at this time of year is making a wreath for the door.  I especially like a natural wreath made with local materials.  For this project the  most fun is going into the woods to search out just the right boughs, berries and cones.  They must have variation in color and form to make it interesting.  There are a surprising variety of coniferous trees in our Maine woods so I quickly gather a nice assortment.

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Cup of tea and binoculars at hand (just in case a bird lands by the window), materials sorted, wire, wreath form and clippers at the ready.  Let us begin!

 

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Wire your elements together.  First wire cones, (leaving wire “tails” to secure them) then make an attractive bundle, (see below) wiring it all together with florist wire.  Leave about 4 inch wire “tails” on your bundle so you can wire it to the form.

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When you’ve got 10 or 12 bundles start wiring them to your wreath form individually using the 4″ lengths.  Attach the end of a roll of florist wire securely and wrap it around further securing each bundle as you go.  Place each bundle so it hides the base of the one before (I was working counter-clockwise in the picture above).

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When you get to the final bundle arrange it so the base of the first bundle is hidden under the loose end of the last bundle.  You will have secured each bundle plus made sure it won’t get dislodged by wrapping it around the form with the running length of florist wire.

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When you are finished make a loop in the wire for hanging, securing it tightly.  Then cut the wire off the roll.

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If you don’t think your finished wreath will be full enough, put down a plain layer of branches for a base and lay your bundles over them.  This base will be secured by the running wire wrap as you go along.

OTHER WREATHS:

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Wreath of fresh herbs (smells  sooo good!)

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Magnolia Wreath (see my post of December 14, 2013 for instructions)

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Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

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After 30 loaves of squash bread and 9 quarts of minestrone for the freezer not to mention several meals, I am ready to take a break.  This is just from two days!  I only planted three hills.   The food pantry I donate to is only open on Wednesdays but this method has worked in the past.  We’ll see how many people still cook.

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Pete’s Tree: Native Plant Success

 

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This Catbird is one of the several species enjoying the early season fruit from the Pagoda Dogwood

I have championed native plants here previously, especially deer resistant bird friendly ones and I now have another success.  My sister-in-law wanted to do something as a memorial to our son Pete after his death from cancer in 2013 and we decided on a Pagoda Dogwood.  In only three years it has borne a bumper crop of fruit and is covered with birds each morning, especially Gray Catbirds, Northern Mocking Birds, American Robins and Cedar Waxwings.  This tree has early season fruit, a much sought after food source for birds.  We planted it near the bird bath where it would have the moist soil it enjoys.  It has so much going for it; early fruit, deer resistance, spring flowers, fall color and it’s native to this area.  I know Pete is enjoying the bird show.

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Here’s what it looks like in the spring.

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Lady Jane is Always the First to Bloom

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I always summer my Amaryllis bulbs in the garden and rest them for a couple of months in the fall.  I bring them up into the sunlight in late January to have some beauty in the cold days of winter.  I’ve had Lady Jane at least 20 years.  Happy Spring!!  [Click here for a link for full instructions that I posted earlier.]

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Spaghetti Squash: A Garden Thug with Tasty Possibilities

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Here it is in the fullness of its growth. It spread from its bed to the right and smothered the asparagus. Vines that went through the fence and got outside were swiftly nipped off by deer or who knows, it might have come in the house!

I like to try a new vegetable every year but I was an innocent when I decided to try out spaghetti squash, having no idea it would be so aggressive.  The squash themselves average about a foot long.  The vines on the other hand easily spread 20 feet.  They are a winter squash type and are ripe when they turn yellow and the skin is no longer tender.  I planted two hills and got about 25 squash.

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The ripe squash

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I get an inescapable mental image when I see them like this and understand if you do too.  Ignore that. To begin, you need to cut them in half and bake them at 400º until you can pierce the skin with a sharp knife.  If you cut them crosswise you get longer strands. I found it easier to take the seeds out before baking them but it can be done afterwards as well.

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Pull at the strands with a fork and separate them as you go along.

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This is the palette from which we can create our dishes.  I tried using it as I would angel hair pasta but I found that it got lost in heavy sauces such as marinara or Bolognese.

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It worked very well in place of pasta sheets for a cheese lasagna.  I layered it about an inch thick and pressed it down gently with a spatula.  (above: lasagna plated, below, lasagna in the pan).

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Here it is with the classic “Aio e Oio.” It makes an excellent side dish, here with maple glazed salmon filet and caramelized Brussels sprouts.

I found it really works well with lighter sauces.  I sauteed it to dry it out some then made the sauce and added the squash, turning it in the sauce until all strands were coated.  Aio e Oio (Roman garlic, olive oil and red hot chili pepper with parsley) is wonderful.  I also tried it with a sauce of olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice and basil and that was terrific as well.  Be sure to salt it as you saute it as it is very bland all by itself.

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Pickled Beet Taste Test

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With the threat of hard frost looming I decided to harvest my beets.  They did quite well this year and I had so many I decided to make up several pickled beet recipes and see if I liked them better than the way I have been doing them all these years, a recipe I learned when I lived in Denmark.

The first recipe I tried came from “Cook’s Illustrated” magazine (March/April 1994, p.11).  I was intrigued by the fact it had vermouth, red wine, rosemary and orange slices along with the typical ingredients.  The next was from a cookbook that has given me some great recipes in the past; Smith & Hawkins “Gardener’s Community Cookbook” compiled by Victoria Wise, Workman Publishing, New York, 1999).  This one had horseradish and lots of spices and since I like the tang of horseradish, I put it on the list.  I also tried one from the “Bon Appetit” website which included coriander berries, “interesting”, I thought. Finally I included my Danish recipe of old, which includes onions.

We gave it three tries on successive days and my original old recipe won each time with the Bob Appetit recipe a close second and the Cook’s Illustrated and near tie for second.  The Gardener’s was too tart although I’m sure adding sugar to balance the vinegar would improve it.

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…and the winner is…

Here’s that recipe (happily the simplest):

DANISH STYLE PICKLED BEETS (serves four)

  • 1 pound prepared beets (about 3 large)
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/2 C cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf

Prepare beets by washing them and boiling them in their skins.  When they can be pierced easily with a sharp knife, remove them from the water, saving 1/2 C water from the cooking liquid for the pickling sauce.  Let the beets cool enough so you can handle them to peel them.   You should be able to just push off the skin with your thumbs.  Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan (including the beet juice) and bring to a boil.  Slice the beets and add them to the saucepan.  Cool and refrigerate for a day or two before serving.  Can be served hot or cold.

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